Vacuum Failure

One of the many inconveniences we train pilots for is vacuum failure. Some of the aircraft instruments use vacuum “pressure” to make them operate. The instruments are gyro instruments, called the Attitude Indicator (or artificial horizon) and the Directional Gyro. One of those instruments tells the pilot which way is up, or what “attitude” the airplane is in, and the other tells the pilot which direction the airplane is pointing. When the only thing that can be seen out the windows is a shade of white, this is very important information.

The reason  that vacuum failure is such a problem isn’t that the pilot gets less information. It’s that the pilot is receiving slowly degrading information. Learning how to deal with slowly degrading information is something that we can all experience, and it’s something that usually ends badly. It often ends badly for pilots.

The pilot antidote for vacuum failure is to “cross check” the gyro instruments with other instruments. They always have multiple sources of information and check them frequently. If there are contradictory indications, the problem is isolated. The instruments providing the wrong information are not only ignored but covered. They are covered so we don’t accidentally look at them and for a second think they might be right. We’ve been trained to look in this place for specific information. Breaking ourselves of this training while doing other things is difficult. Once the source of bad information is covered, however, we might not even know what we are missing. We make do with the remaining sources, and complete our tasks.

  • Are you running your business, thinking you’re doing okay, and slowly, you’re getting fewer calls?
  • Do you have a relationship that has been slowly getting more strained or dissolving?
  • Have you been making decisions based on information from a particular source, and are you making more poor decisions?

These can be an indication that you have a condition of slow failure. Something that needs to be confronted. In a couple of future posts, I will clarify antidotes and the means of handling this condition.

Here’s an in flight video from YouTube, giving a taste of what happens during a vacuum failure.

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